The Jordan School Board passed a policy Tuesday designed to maintain a working environment free of substance abuse. But some say the policy goes too far.
School board members unanimously approved the policy, saying it follows federal standards and will help create a safer environment for students and teachers. But the executive director of a teacher's organization disagrees and believes the policy is an invasion of employees' rights."This policy goes beyond what your responsibilities are. Clearly you've gone beyond the workplace policies of this act," Susan Kuziak, executive director of the Jordan Education Association told the school board.
Kuziak said the board has "a right to set expectations for job performance, but beyond that (you) don't have the right to intervene into the personal lives of employees."
The policy prohibits the unlawful possession, use, distribution and manufacture of controlled substances and/or alcohol in the workplace and says any Jordan School District employee found in violation may be subject to disciplinary actions including termination.
The policy also requires employees convicted of activities related to substance abuse to report the conviction within five days to the superintendent, who is required to inform the Utah State Office of Education. "The district will impose appropriate personnel sanctions upon employees convicted of substance abuse activity," the policy states.
Board members said they believe school teachers must be kept at a higher standard than other professionals because they are role models for students both at school and in the community.
"I think we have the right to expect irreproachable teachers," said board member Maurine Jensen. "I don't care if they (teachers) run around the house nude in their home, but I don't think they should break the law," she said.
Board member Linda Neff also voiced support for the policy.
"I think we need to expect adults to accept the responsibility for their behavior," she said, specifically citing the use of drugs as a felony offense and something district employees should avoid.
Kuziak agreed that the district has the right to set expectations for job performance, "but beyond that they don't have the right to intervene into the personal lives of their employees."
While admitting that teachers are role models, she said having to report every conviction is not fair. As an example, she hypothetically cited a teacher on summer vacation in California who was arrested for substance abuse. Rather than returning to California weeks later for trial, he decides to plead no contest and pays a fine. Under the policy, he would be required to report it, she said.
"I think it's intrusive and has a Big Brotherish type of concept," she continued. "To place this broad guideline to say if you're ever convicted of substance abuse . . . it just taints you and that's what we object to."
Superintendent Raymond Whittenburg said the district does not intend to go on a witch hunt against the teachers but said the policy was necessary "so that all of us are protected.
"We're forced to deal with people who do things in their private life that they shouldn't do because of their position."